Thai Health Minister To Break Patents, Issue Compulsory Licenses for Antiretroviral, Heart Disease Drugs
Thai Public Health Minister Mongkol Songkhla plans to break patents on an antiretroviral drug and a drug for heart disease by issuing compulsory licenses to produce lower-cost versions, Ministry of Public Health spokesperson Suphan Srithamma announced on Thursday, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/25). Mongkol declined to name the two drugs until the ministry officially announces the compulsory licensing on Monday, Thailand's Nation reports (Khwankom, Nation, 1/26). World Trade Organization regulations allow governments to declare a "national emergency" and issue compulsory licenses without consulting the foreign patent owner. Thailand, which has 580,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, has won international recognition for its quick launch of a national drug program that treats more than 82,000 HIV-positive people. However, the government's commitment to providing universal access to care is facing increasingly high drug costs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/1/06). "We have to do this because we have so many [HIV/AIDS] patients to treat with so little budget," Mongkol said, adding, "We can't watch our people die and their patents have been here for so long" (Wong-Anan, Reuters, 1/25). He added that compulsory licensing "is legitimate domestically and internationally, and Thailand is not the first" country to do it (Nation, 1/26). Teera Chakajnarodom, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers' Association, said the Thai government is using an overly broad definition of an emergency. "The law allows such actions with pharmaceutical products only in cases of extreme national emergencies, or during wartime, and only after negotiation with the companies concerned," Teera said, adding, "It is a provision in the law that has to be used judiciously and with extreme caution if one is not to undermine the confidence of the investment community" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/25). Paul Cawthorne, head of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Thailand, said compulsory licensing is a "perfectly legal method for [the government] to ensure access to essential drugs for Thai people" (Reuters, 1/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.